By: Skylar Salim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
KIGALI, Rwanda – Rwandan President Paul Kagame pardoned political opposition leader Victoire Ingabire from a 15-year prison sentence.
On September 15, 2018, Victoire Ingabire, leader of the FDU-Inkingi opposition party, and 2,140 other prisoners were pardoned by President Kagame and released from prison. Ingabire intended to run for president when she returned to Rwanda from exile in 2010. Upon her arrival she was arrested, charged with treason and terrorism and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her sentence was extended by five years on appeal for “genocide denial” in relation to remarks she made concerning the government’s portrayal of the 1994 genocide.
Ingabire brought a claim against the Rwandan government in the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In November 2017, the court found that the Republic of Rwanda violated Ingabire’s right to freedom of speech. Although calls for a retrial were initially ignored by the government, the president pardoned Ingabire. Ingabire thanked Kagame for releasing her and she said, “this is the beginning of the opening of political space in Rwanda.” She also called on the president to “release other political prisoners.”
The government has noted that the pardons are not a result from outside pressure, and that “there is nothing political about [Ingabire’s] release, there is nothing political about her imprisonment.” Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Businge told Reuters “the president has granted mercy, and under the constitution, he is allowed to do that.”
While Ingabire and other political prisoners were released, one notable opposition leader remains imprisoned and will go to trial on September 24. Diane Rwigara, in a situation similar to Ingabire, ran for president in 2017 but could not complete her run due to issues raised by the electoral committee. Rwigara and her mother were later arrested on charges relating to the claims of electoral fraud and treason.
Typically in elections, Kagame wins with over 90% of the vote and the ruling party, Rwandan Patriotic Front, faces little opposition. Kagame commanded the rebel force that helped end the 1994 genocide and he has been president for 18 years. A new amendment to the Rwandan constitution that ends two-term limits could allow Kagame to remain in power until 2034.
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